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Science Fiction Speculative Adventure

TW: Swearing and mention of death.


Jack strolled down the dusty streets of the port towards the space shuttle for his interview. Pale men and women, ignorant after months or years in vacuum, were shifting cargo. The suns of Hellebore cooked the flesh of offworlders to a glowing boiled lobster tan that was in vogue amongst incomers.

Jack pulled down the brim of his cap. He lifted the collar of his boiler suit with one hand to save his neck from the crispy barbeque fate of the crowds. In his other hand he carried his beloved toolbox. He’d scratched his name into the rust on the lid to keep others from stealing from it.

The landing shuttle’s door lay open to the pleasant aromas of crew fart and stray dog piss. Jack was thankful for the open air and the warm breeze that carried the smells away to replace them with something worse. Sewer salad.

The captain sat in the pilot’s chair, unlocked and swiveled to face the rear door. He knocked on the hull.

“Permission to board?” He stood, shoulders back, hearing things between his shoulder blades crackle. Tanks of oxygen were strapped to the walls on both sides.

“Granted. You’re Jack?” She looked at him with the familiar only a bullet could love that face look.

“Yes, Captain.” He tried to be brief to at least get half marks for being the strong silent type.

“What are your qualifications Jack?” She looked at a hologram of him from his previous ship’s crew log. As it rotated in the air he got to see the knife wound on his chin from a whole new angle.

“I have experience, not qualifications,” he said in his usual monotone. Generous people said he had a soothing voice, good for bedtime stories. Honest people told him it was boring, vocal sedative.

“I prefer workers who are certified.”

“You can ask for references from any of my previous captains. I’m a hard worker and becasue I don’t have the certificates you don’t need to pay me as much. Bed, board, and some change is fine.”

“Thirty years experience. You’re what, thirty five?”

“Forty, Captain.” He set down his toolbox and backpack to massage his right hand. Repetitive strain injury was a bitch that could only be bribed to take breaks with serious painkillers.

“How’d you manage that?” She eyed him working at the pain where his fingers joined his palm with knowing grey eyes.

“I was born in the Hooker’s Tights.” Most people assumed that was the name of a brothel.

“Why the hell would anyone name a ship that?” asked Captain Eliza who clearly wasn’t as naive as most.

“Because it had more holes than a sieve but kept going anyway. That’s where I learnt to weld and patch. The whole crew learnt to patch in vacuum there. Those of us who survived.”

“Why did your parents allow that?”

“They died in a breach. The rest of the crew brought me up since I was ten. I helped in the kitchen. I learnt the tools. If someone blows a hole through your engine with a railgun I can have it up and running within the hour.”

“Why would anyone be shooting at my ship? Do you have enemies?”

“No, no.” He shook his head. “Just some of the ships I’ve crewed with moved cargo without paying their taxes.” It was an understatement, an exaggeration and a lie all in one. Well practiced.

“Show me your hands,” she told him, holding out hers. She had the calluses of a pilot and the scars of someone who did light repairs themselves.

He opened his notably small hands and laid them in hers, just straightening the fingers sent a spark of pain down his right middle finger. Life is pain, that was a saying he’d heard often. There are plenty of corpses wishing they could be in agony again, just to feel something.

“Number seven spanner?” Jack nodded as her thumb ran over the scar where his right palm became his wrist.

“Our engine was on fire. Far as I know the Firenze Forecaster is still running. It wasn’t just me of course. Carter was spraying it with the extinguisher the whole time.” He thought of the inferno, memories wrapped in the warm embrace of PTSD. He pushed it down.

“Cool head under pressure?”

“Nowhere to run. If something’s broken, you fix it.” He shrugged, massaging his hand again.

“Tell me about this shuttle,” she said, spreading her hands wide. She had the nails of a biter.

“A Glowbug built by Halo Industries. This is the Three-Four-Three model but the furnishings have been switched out. I don’t know about them. This is the nicest upholstery I’ve ever seen. That patch on the fuel gauge had been there for a few years judging by the discolouration beneath the tape.” Jack pointed to the dashboard.

“The landing gear is original but the shoes have been replaced recently.” He paused, thinking about the job advert. “Your ship is Panthera Tigris made but you’re using a Glowbug shuttle. That means you’ve converted the docking clamps from the proprietary design Tigris use. Probably because the Cub pods are notorious for hatch leaks.”

Captain nodded and gestured with a rotating hand either for him to continue or to hurry up. He wasn’t great with non verbal cues unless they were sign language.

“You’re advertising for six crew members which means something bad happened on your last job. Something really bad.” When she bowed her head with the dark shadow of guilt in her eyes he knew to shut up.

She sighed and stretched, elbows pointed back. Her chest pushed out as she exhaled a sigh heavy with trauma. He shouldered his backpack, expecting her to tell him to get out.

“You’re vastly overqualified, Jack. You applied for six positions but I can’t hire you for five of them officially because you lack the credentials.” She steepled her fingers, looking him in his dead blue eyes. “I’m hiring you as a cleaner and cook because that’s all I can do legally. It’s minimum wage with bed and board.”

“That’s fine,” he said but she held up her hand.

“On the books that’s what you’ll be doing. In reality I need you to train up the kid who’s supposed to be maintaining the ship. He’s certified but he’d never set a foot on deck until he joined the crew. We had an accident. He’s still jumpy and he needs a steady hand.”

“Thank you, Captain-”

“Stop interrupting me, sailor.” She pointed a finger at him, frowning. “I’ll put the difference between your wage and what a qualified mechanic would make into sponsoring you for the qualification. You can work on the course while you’re off duty. I’d like someone with your experience in the engine room.” She crossed her arms and sat back in her chair. “Now I’m done talking.”

He stood, stiff and waiting.

“Well? You want the job?” Her voice had the snarl of a dog greeting the postie.

“Yes. Yes, Captain.” He shifted on his feet, uncomfortable physically and socially.

She held out her hand. He shook it twice. That seemed to be the usual amount.

“Got any other belongings to get before we take off?” she asked rhetorically.

“No.” He scratched his head. “Captain.” He looked around the empty pod. “What about the other crew?”

“There aren’t many of us left, Jack. You have a surname? It’s not on your application.”

“Dancer,” he said flatly, knowing her next question.

“Can you?”

“Two left feet.”

She smiled. Unlocking her chair she turned it to face the cockpit window and locked it in place again. “Strap in.”

Jack clicked himself into a harness next to the ship’s supply of oxygen. The Glowbug told gravity things weren’t going to work out between them and wished Hellebore farewell. Dusty brown landing pads by the polluted lake were lost beneath a clean blue sky. Azure faded to black. Pinpricks of brilliance peeked through the darkness to assure Jack his fiery demise was a few billion lightyears and a mad pilot away.

The Fairweather was a pencil that had been chewed in the middle.

“What hit you?” Jack asked, mouth wide.

“A mine. We broke the blockade on Copernicus.”

“Why?”

“Supplies. People are dying there.”

“They should surrender. Fighting the Pierce Dynasty is like trying to bail out the ocean with a bucket.” Jack just said that based on numbers. Copernicus was a new colony of a few thousand asserting its independence against an empire of hundreds of billions.

“Thanks for the metaphor. Hopefully you’re as good at patching as you’re bad at handling moral quandaries.”

During the keep your stupid mouth shut silence that followed Jack assessed the damage to his new home. The ship reversed into place, docking with the Fairweather. He introduced himself to the kid called Max that he would be training. Max kept shaking long past the two shakes Jack preferred.

“Show me the EVA suits,” Jack said, not making eye contact with the acne scarred twenty something.

“Sure thing, man.” He beckoned Jack to follow with his hand.


Jack checked his suit twice before slipping into it. Max didn’t fill his, a kid in his father’s shirt. They stood in silence in the airlock, bathed in red light. Vacuum welcomed them with cold indifference. Their magnetised boots clomped on the hull. Used to the change in strength required by a hull walk, Jack strode towards the wound in the Fairweather’s side. Max strode with the confidence of a duck through a glue puddle.

“Your boot battery is blinking. Go and charge it.” Jack tested his tether, retracting the spare and clipping it to the ring before him.

“It’ll be fine,” Max grumbled.

“Charge it. Never risk your life unless you have to. Never go out with less than a full battery unless it’s an emergency.” Jack didn’t look back. He felt the footsteps of the young man receding as vibrations on the hull.

The wound in the Fairweather had ripped the hull outwards from the point of impact. Concertina metal folds on petal rips had Jack going through his mental catalog of patches. First the panels had to be beaten back to shape.

Songs that depressed other people cheered Jack as he unclipped a hammer from his toolbox that held to the hull with its magnetic base. He hummed along as the music played in his mind, well aware what anyone else would hear sounded like a cat drowning.

Hours passed, the chorus of one song going around and around because he didn’t know the other words. With a few of the petals bent back and friction stir welded together, the aluminium hull’s wound had reduced by a tenth when the warning lights on his boots began blinking.

Disappointed to leave before the job was done, Jack packed up his toolbox and returned to the airlock.

“You were supposed to be teaching Max,” said the captain’s angry voice from a speaker by the EVA suit lockers.

“I will when his boot batteries are properly charged. There’s plenty of the same left to do and I don’t see the point in teaching him if he floats away mid lesson.”

“Max, show the new guy around.”

Running footsteps echoed down the starboard aft hallway. The breathless rake with a certificate gave a weak smile. “Welcome to the Fairweather. The tour starts here. On your right are the EVA suits you know better than I do. On your left is a backpack that’s older than my dad. Carry it yourself.” Max walked and talked with the haste of a cocaine addict dictating his will during an overdose.

“That’s the mess hall, we keep it clean though. On your right here, you’ll see the gaping wound that should be the oxygen storage bay. Pay close attention to the blood stain across what’s left on the wall there.” He pointed through the scratched glass. “His name was Dave.”

Max sniffed. “This is the aft hallway. Jet exhausts.” He pointed to two yellow doors.

“I know what a Panthera Tigris Siberia looks like. Where’s my bunk?” Jack asked with his usual tact.

“Follow me.” The young man with blond hair walked towards the nose of the ship down the portside hallway, hands in his pockets. Turning the handle for the crew bunks, Max opened the hatch to reveal blue grey metal covered with posters and bright bedding.

“Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Quit.” Max pointed to the different beds. “And dead.” He pointed to a top bunk with purple and green sheets. “That’s mine.” His finger aimed at black and white sheets on the bunk below. “That’s Annie’s bunk. Both of us snore. Touch her and I’ll stab you. Then she’ll stab you.”

“Noted.” Jack nodded. “Where can I take a shit?” He set down his bag on one of the empty beds.

Max showed him the door between their bedroom and the captain’s quarters. A gas mask was clipped to the door.

“That’s for the smell. There’s an air freshener in the filter. It’ll be your turn to change it when the stink gets too bad again.” Max rolled down his orange boiler suit to reveal his Spider-Man T-shirt.

“Your boots should be charged.”

“You don’t want to unpack? I can show you the shower.” Max’s high pitched voice was already getting on Jack’s nerves.

“Later. Might as well get a day’s worth of work done.” Jack massaged his hand again.

“On some planets the days last less time than we’ve been talking.” Max smiled.

“Come on.”

“Hey, new guy. Let’s be clear about this. I’m the one who’s qualified. I’ve been crew longer than you have. You’re not the captain.”

“True, but the captain said I was to teach you. I’ve been doing this job longer than you’ve been alive. I never got my certification because I prefer work to tests. No multiple choice bullshit prepares you to operate on an engine that’s on fire. Health and safety talks don’t prepare you for when a crew-mate you know asphyxiates because they ignored a crack in their helmet.

There are going to be a lot of times when the things you’ve learned in a course from an instructor differ from what I learnt from old timers around the galaxy. Maybe your way will be better, maybe mine. We’ll have to work it out when we disagree. I’m not here to put you down. I just want to do what I’m good at, eat and sleep. Sound good?”

Max frowned and nodded.

Jack held out his hand.

They shook. After the second shake the veteran took the wrist of the youngster and pulled it away. “Two shakes is enough for me.”

November 02, 2023 05:44

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29 comments

Hi, Graham. I was wondering where you were, and if I would see any more stories from you. I’m glad you’re back again. I hope you’re well. [The suns of Hellebore cooked the flesh of offworlders to a glowing cooked lobster tan that was in vogue amongst incomers.] I think this would read better if you didn’t have [cooked] twice in a row. Perhaps instead {The suns of Hellebore cooked the flesh of offworlders to a glowing boiled lobster tan that was in vogue amongst incomers.} [“I was born in the Hooker’s Tights.” Most people assumed that w...

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Graham Kinross
04:42 Nov 04, 2023

Thank you for the very in depth analysis and picking up so many typos and awkward wordings. I made the changes. I’m hoping to keep this one going hand build it into something bigger. It was fun making Jack the kind of person who gets on a lot of people’s nerves because he’s unfiltered. Thanks for reading this and for sharing it as well.

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Graham, when I look at your stories that you’ve made into series, I think they could be chapters of novels. Have you ever thought about writing one? I know that not every writer wants to write a novel, and not every story needs to be a novel. But I think you could write a really fantastic novel if you wanted to. I felt sad these past few weeks when I didn’t see anything new from you. I thought that, just maybe, you might have left Reedsy for good. I always look forward to seeing what new things you’ll come up with. I eagerly anticipate ...

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Graham Kinross
12:10 Nov 08, 2023

Thanks. I’m working on a book at the moment, editing it is one thing that’s kept me away from reedsy but I’m going to try to juggle both because editing is mind numbing anyway. Thanks again for your encouragement.

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Mary Bendickson
20:22 Nov 02, 2023

A brave new world.

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Graham Kinross
00:50 Nov 04, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting Mary. Have you read A Brave New World? I found it interesting, big scientific ideas which would be very relevant now mixed with social ideas which feel more and more dated. In contrast with that was the way that the main character seemed less sexist than the rest of the cast.

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Mary Bendickson
04:04 Nov 04, 2023

It has been so long I don't remember much about it.

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Graham Kinross
11:54 Nov 04, 2023

I read it quite recently.

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L M
22:22 Nov 04, 2023

I seems like the more you write the more messed yo your characters are.

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Graham Kinross
03:40 Nov 05, 2023

Progress…

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L M
08:18 Nov 25, 2023

Perhaps

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09:50 Nov 10, 2023

When I saw 'Jack' in the title of both stories I wondered if they were connected. This is the earlier one. Not as exciting as the one I read first (the latest story) This is great to introduce and establish characters. Experience versus credentials. A common problem foe those who grew up in the decades where experience meant everything. My husband says he has a QBE (Qualified by experience) Jack sounds like him! Love the rugged atmosphere of this introductory story.

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Graham Kinross
12:37 Nov 10, 2023

I like that QBE thing. I might use that in future Jack stories. I teach English in Japan despite having no qualification for it. My wife did a teaching degree so I get a lot of help from her.

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Shirley Medhurst
09:12 Nov 10, 2023

I reckon this would make a great introduction to a much longer story. You build up the characters rapidly & well. Jack puts up a rough, tough exterior but remains very likeable & leaves us wanting to get to know him better. I imagine there’ll be plenty of friction between he & Max soon… On another note, I think replacing one of the ‘HE’s’ by Jack wouldn’t go amiss in this sentence: « The captain sat in the pilot’s chair, unlocked and swiveled to face the rear door. HE knocked on the hull. “Permission to board?” HE stood, shoulders back…. ...

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Graham Kinross
12:22 Nov 10, 2023

Thank you for reading and commenting. I would change that first HE into Jack but the submission has been verified so I’m not allowed to edit it now. Shame. Thanks again Shirley.

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Helen A Smith
18:04 Nov 08, 2023

“Max walked and talked with the haste of a cocaine addict dictating his will during an overdose.” You are back! Great dialogue and characterisation here. Cool writing. Well done.

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Graham Kinross
21:40 Nov 08, 2023

Thanks Helen. It’s good to be back.

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Tom Skye
16:02 Nov 07, 2023

Wild imagination with the jargon. Great stuff. This was super enjoyable. A relatable scenario with a skilled, but unqualified teaching the opposite, but that backdrop gave it a very entertaining twang. Really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing

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Graham Kinross
12:11 Nov 08, 2023

You’re welcome Tom. I just uploaded a sequel to it. If that’s too much then that’s ok. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/vfsztt/

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Aoi Yamato
00:55 Nov 07, 2023

is Jack the start of a new story?

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Graham Kinross
04:40 Nov 07, 2023

Yes. I'm about to upload one.

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Cassie Finch
09:33 Nov 07, 2023

Sweet. You shouod put up a link.

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Graham Kinross
10:11 Nov 07, 2023

Forgot. Thanks Cassie.

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Aoi Yamato
00:55 Nov 08, 2023

cool I read it now

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Cassie Finch
09:25 Nov 17, 2023

You;re welcome.

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Graham Kinross
12:07 Nov 08, 2023

If you enjoyed Jack’s story then you can read on using the link below. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/vfsztt/

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Cassie Finch
09:32 Nov 07, 2023

Cool story dude. Jack sounds like a hard ass. Awesome.

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Graham Kinross
10:12 Nov 07, 2023

Thanks. He’s a rough guy for sure.

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Cassie Finch
09:26 Nov 17, 2023

You're welcome.

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